French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius presents Europe's position to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 21.
(photo credit: THOMAS COEX / REUTERS)
Just one day after France’s government rolled out the red carpet for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the French turned their sights to Israel, announcing an initiative to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and threatening to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state should the new attempt to jump-start negotiations fail.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners to preserve and achieve the two-state solution,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a conference of French diplomats in Paris. “If this attempt to achieve a negotiated solution reaches a dead end, we will take responsibility and recognize the Palestinian state.”
We congratulate the French for taking the initiative and proposing concrete steps for how to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Ultimately, the only way the sides will ever settle their differences is through the give and take of negotiations and dialogue. Neither the Jews nor the Palestinians are going anywhere. We are destined to share this small slab of real estate located in a difficult region. Only by reaching a modus vivendi through mutual recognition can we end the conflict. In that sense, the French initiative – or any other serious effort that brings the sides together without any preconditions – should be enthusiastically welcomed.
The problem is that the French unwittingly sabotaged hopes for fruitful talks by adding their caveat: Should the talks fail, they will unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.
As officials in Jerusalem put it, “Why would the Palestinians compromise on even the smallest iota if they know from the start that if progress is not made they will get what they want?” The Palestinians are gambling that if the French recognize a Palestinian state it could set in motion an avalanche of pressure on Israel. Sweden and the Vatican might not have what it takes to create a new diplomatic reality but as soon as a heavyweight like France recognizes “Palestine” we might see new developments: Other European countries such as Germany and Britain might be inclined to follow in France’s footsteps; US President Barack Obama might be less inclined to use his veto in the UN Security Council; a critical mass might be generated that will impossible to ignore.
The French and other countries threatening unilateral recognition of “Palestine” are not only making a tactical mistake. They are ignoring reality.
Palestinians cannot even agree among themselves about the borders of a Palestinian state. They are presently split between two statelets, one in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip. The respective leaderships of these “states” are hostile to one another.
Neither the government in Ramallah nor the government in Gaza City has democratic legitimacy. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has just entered the 11th year of a four-year term. Parliamentary elections have not been held in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006. And this deadlock has nothing to do with Israel.
The question arises: Why does France assume a lack of progress in hypothetical talks between Israel and the Palestinians would be Israel’s fault? Yes, there are partners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition who are adamantly opposed to a two-state solution, such as Bayit Yehudi. But Netanyahu has repeatedly stated his support for the idea and offered to meet with Abbas.
The world know what Israel is able to offer, based on the history of the Wye and Camp David negotiations. And it is a generous, reasonable proposal. If the Palestinians turned it down yet again, then wouldn’t France’s natural response be to condemn Palestinian intransigence? By threatening to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, the French announcement only ensures the Palestinians will dig their heels in further in their rejectionist stance.
No people has an unalienable right to statehood, particularly when this state would quickly become yet another of the many failed Arab states of the Middle East. National self-determination is a privilege that must be earned.
Palestinians have a lot of work to do before they are ready.
France should know this. Then again they should also know better than to provide a state welcome full of pomp and ceremony to the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.